Years ago Stenwold Maker, a student artificer, and some of his fellow students discovered the existence of an expanding empire slowly devouring city after city with a highly trained and ruthless army. They attempted to halt the wasp empire's advance at the city of Myna but failed when they were seemingly betrayed by a member of their group. Stenwold escaped back to the city states of the Lowlands where he attempts to warn anyone who will listen about the coming threat. All his pleas fell on deaf ears. Now seventeen years later the Wasp empire has finally turned its attention to the Lowlands. Only Stenwold, his allies and a group of his students stand in their way; Stenwold's adopted daughter and spider-kinden Tynisa, his niece Cheerwell (who has some self-esteem issues having lived most of her life in Tynisa's shadow), The half-breed artificer Totho and the artistoractic swordsman Salma. However the wasps have grown far more cunning.
The first thing that hits the reader in Tchaikovsky's debut is the outstanding world building. in the early history of his world humanity was plagued by giant insects. Through some long forgotten means humanity bonded itself to these insects, gaining some of their attributes and creating a number of different races. We are treated to a good look at a number of such groups and the concept leaves lots of room for growth in future installments. In addition there is an interesting element with an industrial revloution having taken place and displacing the former moth upper class, with races like the industrious beetle and ant-kinden taking center stage.
The prose is highly accessible making for a fast paced and enjoyable read.
The characterization is also impressive. I particularly enjoyed Stenwold's perspective myself and liked the contrast with figures like a Gandalf or a Belgareth. While the aforementioned characters seem so in control Stenwold is much more fallible. There was obviously a risk of coming across too black and white with the wasp empire as the very obvious villians. Thankfully some of the story is told through a wasp officer, Thalric's, perspective and his motiviations while often conflicting are certainly understandable.
Overall an impresive debut highlighted by impressive world building and characterization. 8.5/10